Extinguishing a problem

Extinguishing a problem

A devastating fire in Hoopeston gave rise to legislation aimed at preventing a similar problem elsewhere.

It often takes a disaster to focus public attention on a problem that needs to be addressed. The June 19, 2013, fire at a 400,000-square-foot Hoopeston tire-recycling facility is one recent example.

The fire, which sent thick black smoke billowing into the air and forced the evacuation of nearby residents, took more than 100 firefighters from more than 20 area fire departments a month to extinguish. That it could have been worse does not minimize in any way the disastrous nature of what occurred.

Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn signed what he hopes will be corrective legislation to prevent similar events. The new law, which was co-sponsored by local state Sen. Michael Frerichs, puts safety standards in place that should discourage what happened at the Hoopeston facility, where many thousands of old tires were stored waiting to be recycled.

The legislation requires facilities with either more than 10,000 passenger tires or that process 500 tons of used tires per year to acquire a solid-waste permit to operate. Tire recyclers will be required to maintain records, allow inspections and meet financial-assurance requirements.

Of course, this fire was as much a disaster for Rodney Rogers, the operator of the recycling business, as it was for the public. Rather than stockpile used tires, as he did in the past, Rogers told The News-Gazette that he now brings in about 10,000 tires a day, processes them and ships them out. That change in business practice alone will prevent the kind of buildup that created the safety problem that led to the fire.

Authorities said the fire started when sparks from machinery ignited tire dust.

Much has changed since the fire. Rogers has moved his recycling business to Tilton, where he's using part of the facilities that made up the now-shuttered GM foundry. The fire site has been cleaned up, but the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency still is fighting with Rogers over cleanup costs and safety violations.

The realities revealed by the Hoopeston fire include not only the mess these kinds of fires can cause but also just how big a business tire recycling is. An IEPA official estimated that Illinois alone produces 13 million scrap tires a year, and recycling them into other products makes perfect sense. Still, the process is fraught with complications and safety risks.

So kudos to Frerichs for sponsoring this important bill, to the House and Senate for promptly and overwhelmingly passing it and to Quinn for signing it. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, what's required were more restrictive rules that, if properly enforced, will prevent the kind of mess that occurred last year in Hoopeston.


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